Our joints usually receive little attention and don’t really enjoy much limelight, but their function in the body is crucial. Think of anything you do during the day—stretching in the morning, going for a walk, cleaning the house, cooking meals, mowing the lawn, lifting grocery bags, reaching the top shelf, playing tennis—and you can bet that it’s your joints that enable such a wide range of motion and mobility. It’s the joints that turn our complex skeletal system into a functional whole.
But so much responsibility comes with high vulnerability. Unfortunately, our joints are prone to all sorts of injuries, especially as we age. Arthritis is perhaps the best-known enemy of the joints, and it’s an umbrella term describing nearly 100 different ailments.
One of these varieties of arthritis is gout, and it’s quite a painful one. Often affecting the big toe, it forms due to excess buildup of uric acid in the body, produced as a result of the breakdown of purines that are derived from certain foods we eat. Uric acid crystallizes into sharp deposits that inflict burning pain along with stiffness and swelling in the joint.
Because diet is the culprit, it only makes sense to adjust your eating habits to reduce your risk of developing this painful condition or, if you’ve already developed gout, to reduce the frequency of flare-ups.
Change your diet to protect your joints
As you know, not all foods are created equal. Some foods can cause more harm than others. Beverages with high fructose content, such as fruit-flavored drinks and non-diet soda, have been found to raise the risk of repeat episodes of gout attacks. Unfortunately, some of the healthier products, like fatty fish and red meat, can also increase the risk of gout due to their purine content. This doesn’t mean you should ban them from your diet altogether, but perhaps the time of culinary indulgences and epicurean feasts is over.
The same goes for alcohol. Studies have shown that having two or more beers a day is associated with double the risk of a flare-up.
A conservative, or traditional, approach to managing gout attacks through diet calls for a low-purine diet, substantially cutting the intake of all foods that contain purines. However, there are a few problems associated with this approach. First of all, this type of eating regimen is hard to follow. If you embark on a low-purine diet, there are so many foods you’ll have to eliminate—well-balanced nutrition on a daily basis will become quite a challenge.
But there’s a greater concern regarding low-purine diet: it’s actually not very efficient at reducing uric acid levels and, subsequently, your risk of flare-ups. Even if you strictly follow it, it may not be enough to make a difference for your joints.
An alternative approach is a lower-calorie diet, replacing refined carbs with more complex carbs, reducing meat intake, and amping up on fruits and veggies. This approach can be just as effective as a low-purine diet without compromising on the nutrition value of the meal.
Here are a few pointers to keep in mind:
- Eat more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
- Obtain your protein primarily from low-fat dairy
- Limit your daily intake of meat, fish, and poultry to four to six ounces max
- Amp your daily fluid intake to two to four liters of liquid (water should account for at least half of it).
These small adjustments will help you protect your joints while enjoying delicious and diverse meals. Added value: a lower-calorie diet supports a healthy body weight, which is essential for keeping your risk of developing gout, and other forms of arthritis, at bay.